Penske trio face each other in quest to reach Cup title race

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The team that saw two of its cars crash as they raced for the win in the season-opening Daytona 500 could see all three of its drivers duel Sunday for a spot in the Cup championship race.

Such is the matter facing Team Penske, which has all three of its drivers outside the cutline entering Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC and Peacock). 

Ryan Blaney is one point out of the cutline, held by Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski is six points from the cutline. Joey Logano is 26 points from the final transfer spot.

Joe Gibbs Racing also has three drivers vying for spots in the Championship 4. Busch and Denny Hamlin are above the cutline. Martin Truex Jr. is three points below the cutline. 

Blaney and Keselowski could advance via points. Logano likely needs to win make it to the Nov. 7 title race at Phoenix Raceway. Keselowski and Logano reached the Championship 4 last year, making Team Penske the only organization to have two teams vying for the Cup crown, but Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott won the championship.

There’s a good chance Sunday that Blaney, Keselowski and Logano could be racing each other for one of the three remaining transfer spots (Kyle Larson has qualified for the championship race already).

“When we all put the helmets on, I’m sure we’re not really going to cut each other a break,” Blaney said this week.

Then he quickly noted: “We’re definitely not going to really rough each other up. That’s one thing that Mr. (Roger) Penske has always said: ‘I don’t care who finishes 1-2, but make sure we finish 1-2.’

“I think there will be intense moments because we’re all racing for our season. We’re going to do it as clean as possible as teammates would.”

The Cup season opened with Logano and Keselowski wrecking in Turn 3 for the lead in the Daytona 500, which allowed Michael McDowell to win that race.

That led to a meeting between Penske and his drivers about what he expects in late-race situations.

Now, Logano, Keselowski and Blaney could face a similar situation where one position in the waning laps at Martinsville could mean the difference between advancing to the title race or not.

Blaney seeks his chance to race for a Cup title. Logano and Keselowski each seek their second Cup crown.

Keselowski’s time with Team Penske is coming to an end. He’ll leave the team after this season to be a driver and part-owner at Roush Fenway Racing.

Keselowski admits he’s tried not to look too far ahead in these playoffs but focus on what’s at stake.

Asked if there would be any more pride with making the Championship 4 in his final season with Penske, Keselowski said:   “Absolutely, yeah. I have allowed my head to go into that space a couple times. 

“It’s a dangerous spot to get in because it distracts from the focus of putting it all together, so I tried to shut my brain off of that as soon as it goes in that spot, but clearly it would mean the world to me to be able to do that for him and do it for our team in our last year together.”